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Posts Tagged ‘blueberries’

Early Summer in my Small Kitchen Garden

Black raspberries

My big garden project last spring included installing a bed of black raspberry plants. Rabbits ate about 1/3 of the plants last autumn—but just what was above ground. The roots are strong and new canes have emerged. Unfortunately, black raspberries produce fruit on canes that emerged in the previous season, so I won’t get a huge harvest this year. On the other hand, the harvest has begun! Immediately after capturing this photo, I ate the two darkest berries you see in it.

In January of this year, I learned I had pancreatic cancer. The tumor was removable, and I had an operation called a Whipple. A surgeon cut out the tumor, part of my pancreas, and my gall bladder, and re-routed my digestive tract, introducing challenges to eating.

With help from my wife, my kids, and friends, I’ve continued to garden, and things are in pretty good shape. However, just over three weeks ago I learned that my cancer has returned and spread. It’s incurable and I’m on a chemotherapy regimen I hope will buy enough time for our medical complex to come up with an effective way to keep the cancer in check—or maybe even cure it.

In the meantime, I’m gardening. Where many activities challenge my stamina or my ability to focus or both, when I’m in the garden I tend to keep working even if it means collapsing on the soil for a break or crawling from place-to-place to reduce the number of transitions from up to down and back.

I’ve chosen photos that show what’s up in my garden as summer gets started—nothing from the community garden; these are all growing at the Cityslipper Ranch. Captions fill in details. I hope your garden is doing well. I’m excited for what’s growing here, and I’d love to hear about what’s growing in your garden. Please leave a comment with details if you’re so inclined. Thanks for visiting!

First blueberry harvest of 2016

We have at least nine blueberry plants in our yard, and they’ve been beat up by rodents every winter for years. I finally got adequate protection around them, and this year the plants show promise of developing into actual blueberry bushes. At best, we’ll score a few hundred berries; these are the first. I was chewing on them seconds after I snapped the photo: so sweet and delicious.

Cinquefoil blossom

At some garden center last summer I found a potted cinquefoil in the “oops, we forgot to water it” bin. I think I paid a dollar and I set the plant in a decorative bed next to raspberries I’d planted with my wife in mind (she loves raspberries on her morning cereal). I had no idea cinquefoil produces blooms—though why wouldn’t it? The plant shows vitality, and the first blossom it produced is gorgeous.

First raspberries of 2016

Those raspberries I planted for my wife? Here are the first to ripen… but Stacy beware! It’s not icing on that raspberry. A bird managed a direct hit. The raspberry plants are growing strong, and next year’s harvest should be impressive. This year’s should be about right for many weeks of cereal bowl berries and they’ve started ripening at the right time: Stacy has been traveling in the Philippines for three weeks and arrives home this weekend.

Fig trees regrowing from roots

This is the third season for my fig trees. Their first winter was amazingly cold and I hadn’t gotten the trees under cover before they froze back to the soil line. They rebounded last year and tried to make figs—which all froze before they were ripe enough to harvest. This winter, I got the plants under cover early but made a silly mistake: The tent I made to prevent freezing also kept moisture from reaching the soil. My fig trees dried out… but not as badly as they’d frozen two winters ago. They’re putting out a lot of new growth, some of it from last year’s growth more than a foot above the soil line. I doubt there will be figs to harvest this season, but perhaps with one more winter under cover (and properly watered), these fig trees will have a fighting chance to produce fruit.

Young fredonia grapes

Two summers ago, I found a beat down Fredonia grape plant priced very low at a local garden center. I failed to plant the vine, and it languished through winter and looked dead when the snow melted. Last year, near the first day of summer, I noticed growth on that beleaguered grape vine. I planted it at the end of my black raspberry bed and it grew strong. This spring, it erupted with new growth and it holds many small bunches of young grapes. If things go well, there may be a few pounds of Concord-like grapes to harvest in September. This spring, my wife and I planted four additional grape vines next to the black raspberries: Riesling, Zinfandel, Pinot Gris, and Cabernet Sauvignon, all grafted onto American grape root stock. Perhaps by summer’s end I’ll have erected a trellis to hold the vines as they mature in future seasons.

Wando peas

My wife prepared the soil, and I planted three 13 foot long double-rows of peas at the beginning of April. My wife erected the trellises with some difficulty and it’s hard to tell whether the trellises are holding up the pea plants or the pea plants are holding up the trellises. More troubling: a rabbit came and went as it pleased and ate at least half a row of pea plants before I repaired the fence enough to slow it down (it has since given birth to three rabbit puppies inside the well-fenced planting bed… go figure). Despite the problems, the pea plants are at full height—they’ve grown three feet above the tops of the four-foot-tall trellises and fallen back—and they’re producing well. I made a vat of new potatoes and peas a few days ago and we’ve eaten through it, and I froze about 3 quarts of peas yesterday. Tomorrow I expect to harvest about a half gallon of pea pods which should be enough to make another vat of new potatoes and peas. (Here’s how I make this iconic Pennsylvania Dutch delicacy: New Potatoes and Peas)

French Gold Filet Pole beans from Renee's Garden

I planted climbing beans two weekends ago, and many have sprouted. I’ll fill the empty places with more seeds this weekend. “Pole Filet Beans French Gold” from Renee’s Garden, are my favorite of all bean varieties—a tender, tasty wax bean that you don’t have to bend over to harvest.

Sundrop blossom

I told the story of my dad’s sundrops in a post titled A Patch of Sundrops. I’d collected several plants from his garden and left them in a bucket for more than TWO MONTHS! Finally, I planted them three weeks ago—a day or two after my wife left on her Philippines trip. The plants showed no sign of transplant shock and have already flowered… the photo shows the first blossom about four days ago. I trust rhizomes are already spreading underground and there will be a dense patch of these pretty yellow flowers under the apple trees within two years.

 
Small Kitchen Garden – Early Summer in my Small Kitchen Garden

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Cold and Snow in my Small Kitchen Garden

No 2016 Seed Giveaway

Apologies to anyone looking for my annual seed giveaway. I’ll be out of commission during the critical weeks where I’d organize mailing lists, package and label seeds, and put together a mailing.

We experienced a very tame autumn and early winter. There was no measurable snow, and there were few days of winter cold. I was still working on season-end garden projects when, finally, cold and snow set in.

My last project was to put a rodent fence around my black raspberry patch. Critters have grazed there casually for months, and I wanted to stop the damage while more than half the canes were intact. I was working on the fence two weeks ago when I became ill and spent a week in the hospital.

Black raspberry brambles in snow

Building a fence around the black raspberries wasn’t a precision operation. I’ve pounded in 10 “posts” to hold 24” chicken wire. I need to add, perhaps, four more posts. Except for a grape vine at the front right corner of the frame, all the canes among the stakes are black raspberry brambles. Many at the far end have been gnawed to short sticks.

I received an unpleasant diagnosis: I have pancreatic cancer. Medical science says my tumor is removable, but it’s not going to be a fun experience. I have six more days before surgery, and I’m not excited about gardening in snow – just after I returned from the hospital, the epic storm that buried Washington D.C. buried my yard in about seven inches of powder. Unless the next few days are unseasonably warm, I won’t finish the fence and my first black raspberry crop will remain in jeopardy.

In any case, after a week of being a hospital patient, it was nice to get out in the snow and photograph some of last year’s projects. I’m looking forward to getting things going as I recover from surgery and begin chemotherapy. The blog may be even more quiet than usual for the coming month, but I’ll post again as soon as I’m able.

Caged blueberry bush

My blueberry bushes have had hard lives. Just when they started looking bushy, they spent too long out of cages and got pruned back to sticks by rodents. This season, several of them lived inside fairly generous cages and recovered a lot of ground. I don’t expect a big crop in 2016, but I’ve some hope they’ll bulk up this year and start feeding us well in 2017.

Caged quince trees

Last year I started quince trees from seeds. I nursed seedlings in planters until autumn, and then planted them in the yard. The two in this photo are intact because of the cages around them. Rodents chomped the third seedling down to the soil line; it’s not likely to grow back. I had devised a protective barrier using plastic nursery pots, but wind blew it away… I’m starting more quince seeds this winter with hope of replacing the eaten seedling in my yard.

Cardoon

I started cardoon indoors early last year. I didn’t treat it well, so the plants were tiny when I set them in the garden. Eventually, they flourished, but they never produced harvestable stalks and I assumed they’d die with the first frost of autumn. Several frosts and cold nights did little damage, so I decided to test the plants’ resolve…

Low hoop tunnel over cardoon

I haphazardly erected a low hoop tunnel over two cardoon plants. Just a few weeks later, temperatures plummeted; we had some nights in the teens. Given the plants’ hardiness until then, I hope the low hoop tunnel holds things closer to 30 degrees and my plants manage to shiver through alive.

Fig tree shelter

In fall of 2014, I erected a simple tent over two fig trees I’d planted on the south side of the house. Unfortunately, I didn’t erect the tent until we had had a very early, crazy deep freeze. The fig trees died back to the soil. This past fall, I got the tent up before any severe cold… I managed to stretch it over a rosemary plant as well. With luck, the tent will provide enough protection that my trees won’t have to grow back from the soil line this year.

 
Small Kitchen Garden – Cold and Snow in my Small Kitchen Garden

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Lettuce, Broccoli, Peas, Strawberries … Post Produce!

The lettuce has been fine this spring, but that’s coming to an end. At least half of my romaine plants are bolting and my Ithaca lettuce heads are shriveling. Ithaca lettuce remains my favorite for flavor and crunch, though the heads tend to be small and loose enough that I often find critters living deep among the leaves. Record-setting heat is making the lettuce bitter, and I may remove the plants as early as this weekend.

That’s my Post Produce story for June. What’s yours?

Post Produce is my effort to celebrate homegrown food with other gardeners. On the 22nd of each month, I encourage bloggers of all stripes to post about whatever they’re eating from their own gardens. Posts can be status updates on what’s growing, photos of recent harvests, recipes that include your own fruits and vegetables, instructions for preserving your produce, and even articles about using your preserves. Write about what foods you’re using from your garden and/or how you’re using them.

Once your post is up on your own blog, return here and use the Linky widget (at the end of this post) to link a trail back to your story. I follow all the links and comment on all the posts, and I encourage everyone who participates to do the same.

What’s Ripe in my Small Kitchen Garden

The photos show what we’re eating from my garden, and captions provide a bit of information about each crop. I look forward to seeing what you have to share. Find the linky after my photos.

A few broccoli heads got away from me; they went from “looking good” to “oops, in bloom” just before I figured to harvest them. Still, my daughter’s 16th birthday dinner featured a head from my garden, and there are more on the way. Already, plants are putting out side shoots; we could be eating homegrown broccoli for many more weeks.

Is this not a lame strawberry? I bought a 25 pack of bare root plants and created a hanging planter out of a four-inch PVC pipe. The experience deserves a blog post or two, but this isn’t one of them. Sadly, the strawberries have been small. I hope to create a dedicated strawberry bed before next spring and use the plants from this experiment to get things started there.

Oh how I love fresh peas from the garden. Oh how I love fresh peas IN the garden. When I’m out there, I pop open pod after pod, scrape the peas into my hand, and pop them into my mouth. As a pod holds just a teaspoon of peas, it takes at least a quart of pods to serve a family of five. I once estimated that to feed a family peas once a week for a year, you’d need to plant a row nearly 300 feet long—the length of a football field. In a good year, I plant about 45 feet of pea plants and manage to freeze about a gallon of peas (after we eat another gallon or so).

Weren’t expecting blueberries, were you? Neither was I. Still, I found this handful of berries ripe on two bushes my wife planted at least a decade ago. We’ve been poor stewards of those plants, but I’ve read up on blueberry culture and hope to get decent production from them in coming seasons. I was surprised to find ripe berries because in past years I’ve seen robins eating unripe blueberries days before the berries would have been ready for harvest. This handful went directly from the photograph into my mouth.

Your turn to Post Produce. Link to your blog entry here:

 

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Pink Champagne Blueberries in my Small Kitchen Garden

Briggs Plant Propagators in Elma, Washington provided attendees of the Garden Writers Association Symposium with bagged Pink Champagne blueberry plants. I’ve planted mine near my fruit trees in hopes of improving the blueberry crop in my small kitchen garden.

In late August, I abandoned my small kitchen garden for a week and attended the GWA Symposium in Cincinnati. I’m glad that I did for a lot of reasons, one of which is that I returned with several Pink Champagne Blueberry plants courtesy of Briggs Plant Propagators in the state of Washington.

I finally planted the blueberries in late October. Why did it take me so long? Rain. Rain and PH.

Blueberry Plants Prefer Acid

As I’ve reported in nearly every post this year: In central Pennsylvania, if you weren’t gardening in the rain, you weren’t gardening. We had so much rain that several towns in my area made the national news. But I wasn’t out in the rain for gardening or for any other activity.

While I waited for the rain to subside, I managed to test the soil’s acidity. According to a home test kit (that I’ve since been told is highly unreliable), my yard has neutral PH. That’s not too bad for blueberries, but they prefer acidic soil, so I treated the soil with an organic acidifier.
Instructions for the acidifier were to spread some of the material on the soil and that it would take five or more weeks to lower the PH one full point. So, I dug holes for the blueberry plants, loosened the soil in the holes, and sprinkled the prescribed amount of acidifier in each hole. Then I waited.

Captions under the photos in this blog post tell the rest of the story. Happily, we had a few rainless days and I set the blueberry plants in the holes. I watered heavily that day, and I erected small fences to keep out rodents and deer. The plants look terrific; they’ve started to develop fall colors, and I expect they’ll drop leaves in the next week or so.

When I plant a perennial, I dig a hole dramatically larger than the root ball requires. This lets me work compost into the soil, or, if I’m planting in a lawn, it lets me recycle the sod into fertilizer. I piled the sod along one side of the hole, and heaped the soil on the other side. Then, I laid the sod into the hole grass-side-down. It will break down as the blueberry plant’s roots reach it, providing an abundance of nourishment in the plant’s first season.

You can’t see a “how to plant _______” sequence often enough! OK, you can, really. There are so many “how to plant” videos and articles on the Internet, it’s easy to get your fill. I won’t be offended if you pass on the planting, but have a look at the final set of photos; they show how to protect your seedlings from foraging animals. Here’s the basic planting sequence: gently squeeze the nursery pot several times and tip it down until the root ball comes free and slides out. Then, especially for heavily root-bound plants, loosen the root ball across its bottom. I don’t butterfly the roots as some do—just gently pull them apart across the middle so the roots loosen up. Finally, I set the slightly softened root ball into the middle of the prepared hole.

I pulled the soil into the hole and filled around the blueberry plant’s roots. I filled the hole so that the soil was exactly even with the surface of the soil that was in the pot. Sometimes, you need to adjust the plant by lifting it and adding soil beneath the root ball. It’s very important that you don’t let soil rest against the exposed stems of the plant. After filling the hole with soil, I ran the hose… I used enough water to saturate the soil all the way through the sod in the bottom of the hole. In retrospect, it would have been better to set up the fence before watering the plant.

My blueberries need only a modest fence. Using 24-inch chicken wire, I figured to make a cylinder about a foot and a half across. Remember high school trigonometry? To calculate the distance around a circle, multiply the circle’s diameter times PI. So, to get a 1.5 foot circle, multiply 1.5 times PI (which I approximated as 3); you need about 4.5 feet of chicken wire. I cut the wire, drove a stake about 8 inches away from the plant (completely missing the root ball), curved the chicken wire into a cylinder, and stapled it to the stake. The bottom of the cylinder rests on the soil, and I can use a tent stake to pin it down later if the need arises.

Disclosure

GWA is the Garden Writers Association, a group of people who write for magazines, newspapers, television, radio, gardening-related businesses, and the Internet. You might guess that GWA members are important to companies who sell products and services to gardeners or who create products for the gardening industry. You’d be right. The GWA Symposium draws tool manufacturers, nursery suppliers, plant breeders, and other concerns who wish to get the attention of writers. Those writers, in turn, might report on the products and services, bringing them to the attention of readers, viewers, and listeners.

I received products mentioned in the accompanying article to use for free because I’m a member of GWA. The experiences and any opinions I report are purely my own.

 

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